Pupil assignment plan for transfers opposed

May 01, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The families of 68 St. John's Lane Elementary School students who want to transfer their children out of the crowded school fear they may not be able to do so under a pupil assignment plan approved by the Board of Education Thursday.

Parents in the St. John's community saw Manor Woods Elementary, which opens in the fall, as the school to which they could transfer their children. St. John's Lane is nearly 170 students above its official capacity of 663 and is expected to be 215 above capacity in the fall.

But the board's assignment plan, which names schools that will accept out-of-district students and the number of spaces available, calls for Manor Woods to set aside only 40 places in first through fifth grades and nine for kindergarten in the 1994-95 school year.

As a result, the St. John's Lane families, who have filed a petition with the board stating that they want to transfer their children, will have to compete with other families in the county for spots at Manor Woods, located on Route 144.

The new school will have an official capacity of 588.

St. John's Lane parents are frustrated and say they were misled by the board into thinking all their children could attend Manor Woods, said the school's PTA president, Valerie Linaburg.

"They put their faith into open enrollment and [now it's] not available," she said. "You can't keep telling people things are going to happen and they don't happen."

Another parent, Diane Sooy, wants the board to grant an exception to a current rule that caps out-of-district transfers when a school's capacity reaches 90 percent. That rule is intended to leave space at a school for neighborhood students.

If the board were to grant the exception, 98 seats would be available at Manor Woods for out-of-district students, compared with 49 seats under the board's current plan.

"Our concern is [the school system] is holding open spaces for projected students," said Ms. Sooy. "We have real students, now."

She said that Manor Woods "can easily absorb 30 or 40 students without jeopardizing the education for other students."

But school officials aren't budging. At last week's meeting, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and his staff did not recommend any exception to the current policy capping

out-of-district enrollments once a school reaches 90 percent of capacity, and the Board of Education did not bring up the issue.

"We have not made exceptions in the past," Dr. Hickey said after the board meeting. "We've had overcrowded schools in the past. We didn't feel [an exception] was warranted."

School board Chairman Dana Hanna also opposes an exception.

"We don't know the growth of Manor Woods and how quickly it will grow," he said. "All of a sudden, within a year or two, we may shift people around again."

Systemwide, 182 places at the elementary level have been set aside for out-of-district enrollment. Other elementary schools that have places are Stevens Forest, Talbott Springs and Waterloo.

At the middle school level, Burleigh Manor, Mount View, Oakland Mills and Patapsco have some places open to students.

Among the eight high schools, only Wilde Lake is open to out-of-district students.

Mr. Hanna conceded that, during the redistricting process for the 1993-1994 school year, parents were led to believe that St. John's Lane would get relief from crowding in the 1994-1995 school year.

But that was before the board voted to speed up the construction schedule for a northeastern elementary school, now scheduled to open in 1997, instead of 1998 as originally planned.

The new school will provide a more permanent solution to the problem of crowding at St. John's Lane than temporary redistricting or transfers, he said. As a result, the redistricting plan adopted in March did not shift any students from St. John's Lane, although it added one relocatable classroom.

"For the majority of the community in St. John's, they're willing . . . to dig in their heels and do the necessary thing and keep it together until they can go in an orderly fashion to a new school," he said.

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